Lesson #2: From Realism to Abstraction


How can we create an abstract sketch of a still-life?
Students will be able to:
Explain how the still-lifes of Picasso and Gris differ from the realism of a William Harnett still-life painting.
Draw one small section of a still-life set-up.
Abstract the realistic sketch of the still-life.
Students will understand that:
Some early 20th century artists abstracted their subject matter
Objects can be abstracted by distorting, simplifying, flattening, or fragmenting.

9x12 drawing paper, paper viewfinders (made by cutting out a small rectangle in the middle of a larger piece of paper), ebony pencils, erasers. 

The still-life set-up should include objects that represent 21st century life.


Reproductions of: Juan Gris' Breakfast, 1914; PIcasso's Still-Life with Violin and Fruit, 1912; William Harnett's My Gems, 1888

Teacher-made sketch on large paper of a section of a still-life set-up. 


Display reproductions of: Gris' Breakfast, 1914; Picasso's Still-Life with Violin and Fruit, 1912; William Harnett's My Gems, 1888.  Have a large still-life set up in the middle of the room. Write student responses to these questions on the chalkboard.

  • How do the still-lifes of Gris and Picasso differ from Harnett's still-life?
  • What does the term abstract mean?
  • How have these artists abstracted the objects in their still-lifes?
  • What details have they included to make the objects recognizable?

Draw attention to the large still-life set-up in the room.

In preparation for the still-life collage we will be making, we are going to select one small section of this still-life set-up to draw. 



The teacher will demonstrate how to use a paper viewfinder to select one small section of the still-life to draw.  A large piece of paper folded in half should be at the front of the room.  One half should contain a teacher-made sketch of one section of the still-life.  The teacher should then use the other half of the paper to demonstrate how to abstract the original sketch by flattening, distorting, simplifying, fragmenting, using transparencies, etc. while still including some details to make the objects recognizable. The teacher should articulate the artistic decisions being made as she createse the abstract drawing.

Students will receive a 9x12 piece of drawing paper to fold in half.  They will use their viewfinders to select one section to draw on one half of their paper.  On the other half, they will abstract the realistic sketch using some of the techniques listed on the board. 


Select a few sketches to show the class. 

  • What has the student done to abstract the still-life?
  • What has the student done to ensure that the objects are still recognizable?

We see abstractions all around us.  For example, think about the symbols for public restrooms. Make a list of three abstract images that you see in your daily life and illustrate them.


Art Making: sketching and abstracting a still-life set-up

Literacy: looking at and discussing art, developing visual arts vocabulary, interpreting and analyzing art

Community and Cultural Resources: identifying familiar abstract images in the community